Tuesday 07 April 2015 at 19:48Coffee’s Climate Change
by Jeffry Odell Korgen, OurVoices
Dolores Calero is one of thousands of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Fair Trade farmers in Nicaragua, who in 2007, I interviewed for my book Solidarity Will Transform the World. In sharing her story, I explained how Fair Trade coffee changed Dolores’ life, raising her family out of poverty, and building peace in the Matagalpa coffee growing region among former Contras and Sandinistas.
Today, everything Dolores has built over the past decade is now under threat from a source even more threatening than a Cold War proxy conflict—climate change.
As pointed out by news outlets such as The Guardian, the highest quality coffee beans—arabica—grow only under specific conditions. As local climates change, a combination of rising temperatures and new diseases can make it impossible to grow coffee on a Fair Trade farmer’s land. Some experts predict coffee production in countries like Uganda will become impossible by 2025, eliminating an important tool in the fight against extreme poverty.
In Latin America, CRS estimates that the optimal altitude for coffee growing will rise from 4,000ft (1200m) to 4,600ft (1400m) by 2020 and 5,300ft (1600m) by 2050 (see infographic below). For most Fair Trade coffee producers, this shift will either displace them from coffee production altogether or at the very least, significantly curtail their yield of coffee beans. According to CRS and its research partner, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT):
A third of Latin America’s current coffee lands will be unsuitable for coffee cultivation by 2050.
Catholic Relief Services continues to not only advocate for public policies that will mitigate the effects of climate change, but provide immediate responses. They have introduced drought resistant varieties of coffee to farmers, helped farmers diversify their crops, install irrigation systems, and plant shade trees to lower the temperature of the air surrounding coffee plants.
Farmers like Dolores remain optimistic, but her determination must be combined with a resolve among governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if iconic mountain-grown Latin American Fair Trade coffee is to endure.
Jeffry Odell Korgen is a campaign advisor for OurVoices and the author of several books on faith and social justice.
Header image via flickr user Andreas Poike